IBM says the prototype "cognitive computing" chips are designed to act like a brain-to quickly collect and analyze information, make decisions based on the findings and learn from its mistakes.
IBM researchers have created prototype
computing chips that mirror the human brain, enabling them to not only collect
and analyze information, but essentially learn from their mistakes, understand
the data they're seeing and react accordingly.
The "cognitive computing"
chips are able to recognize patterns and make predictions based on data, learn
through experiences, find correlations among the information and remember
outcomes, according to IBM officials.
The chips represent a significant
departure from how computers are traditionally programmed and operated, and
open opportunities in a wide range of fields, they said.
"Future applications of computing
will increasingly demand functionality that is not efficiently delivered by the
traditional architecture," Dharmendra Modha, project leader for IBM
Research, said in a statement. "These chips are another significant step
in the evolution of computers from calculators to learning systems, signaling
the beginning of a new generation of computers and their applications in
business, science and government."
IBM has been pushing efforts to drive more intelligence
into an increasingly wider
range of devices, and to create ways to more quickly and intelligently collect,
analyze, process and respond to data. Those efforts were on public display in
January when IBM's "Watson" supercomputer
contestants on the game show "Jeopardy."
Watson, like many projects at IBM
Research Labs, is focused on analytics
, or the ability to process
and analyze data to arrive at the most optimal decision. Watson was a
revelation because of its ability to think in a humanlike fashion and answer questions
posed in natural language-with puns, riddles and nuances, etc.-by quickly
running through its vast database of information, making the necessary
connections and returning not with a list of possible correct answers, but the
correct answer itself.
The cognitive computing chips echo
those efforts. IBM officials are calling the prototypes the company's first
neurosynaptic computing chips, which they said work in a fashion similar to the
brain's neurons and synapses. It's done through advanced algorithms and silicon
circuitry, they said.
It's through this mimicking of the
brain's functionality that the chips are expected to understand, learn, predict
and find correlations, according to IBM. Digital silicon circuits create what
IBM is calling the chips' neurosynaptic cores, which include integrated memory
(replicating synapses), computation (replicating neurons) and communication
With those capabilities, computing can
move away from the current if-then programming scenario and toward one where
computers dynamically react, learn and problem-solve on the go.
The two working prototypes offer
45-nanometer SOI-CMOS cores that contain 256 neurons. One core contains 262,144
programmable synapses while the other holds 65,536 learning synapses. The chips
are undergoing testing and have worked with simple applications such as
navigation, machine vision, pattern recognition, associative memory and
The effort is getting $21 million in
new funding through DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) for
phase 2 of what IBM is calling the SyNAPSE (Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive
Plastic Scalable Electronics) project. The project's goal is to create a
computing system that not only collects and analyzes complex information gathered
simultaneously from multiple sensors, but can dynamically rewire itself as it
goes, and to do this in a compact, energy-efficient form factor.
IBM officials see countless
applications for cognitive computing systems. In one, such a system that is used
to monitor the world's water supply-collecting and analyzing such data as
temperature, pressure, wave height, acoustics and ocean tides-could determine
the threat of a tsunami and decide to issue a warning based on its findings.
Another cognitive system could monitor sights, smells, texture and temperatures
to warn grocers of bad or contaminated produce.
"Imagine traffic lights that can
integrate sights, sounds and smells and flag unsafe intersections before
disaster happens or imagine cognitive coprocessors that turn servers, laptops,
tablets and phones into machines that can interact better with their
environments," IBM's Modha said.